Community Energy Oceania – A Snapshot Of Melbourne, Victoria

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This article first appeared on The Community Power Report
by Manny Pasqualini
Community Power Reporter – Oceania

Oceania is a region as diverse as any, dotted with tropical Pacific Island nations, the mountainous lands of New Zealand, and the world’s largest island and smallest continent, Australia. Amongst Oceania’s relatively few inhabitants, there is a growing movement of community-minded people and organisations working towards a switch to clean, renewable energy generation, away from dirty and increasingly cost-inefficient fossil fuel use. As diverse as the region’s geography, approaches to this clean energy transition take myriad of forms, and over the coming months I will be exploring the projects, organisations, and people responsible, with a special focus on community-based development capable of empowering ordinary people to respond to the threat of climate change, while enjoying the social and economic benefits that community renewable energy, or community power, can provide. This article provides a snapshot of the emerging community solar scene in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

melbourne-resizeIn a recent article by Tom Arup, a number of community-based projects in metropolitan Melbourne were illuminated as potential candidates to become Australia’s first working community solar model. Yarra Community Solar, Climate Action Moreland Community Solar, and LIVE Community Power are all currently in an advanced stage of project development and continue to host community engagement events such as this one, while they build their business models. Another community solar project striving towards its first solar PV installation is the Ranges Energy Co-operative, in the outer-east of Melbourne. One of the early developers of a community solar model that functions independently of inconsistent government support, it establishes direct commercial partnerships between the energy co-operative and local businesses that become ‘hosts’ for community-owned solar farms and provide a steady stream of income through the sale of its ‘community-owned energy’, rather than relying on government subsidies (such as the now greatly reduced Victorian solar feed-in tariff). While receiving less media coverage than its inner-city cousins, and inconsistent support from local council, Ranges Energy has successfully implemented robust organisational structures, and vitally, a strong contractual framework to support the kind of power purchase agreement required in any long-term partnership with an eventual solar array host. Currently negotiating contracts with several local businesses, the community organisation run by volunteers helps lead an ever-growing alliance of energy co-operatives that are changing the face of climate action and ethical investment in Australia and across the region.

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Of great significance not just in its native Victoria, but across Australia, is the invaluable community energy facilitation organisation Embark. Established by the people responsible for Australia’s first, and hugely successful community energy project Hepburn Wind (the other to date is the recently operational Denmark Community Windfarm), Embark is hands-on, specialist troubleshooter and project development consultancy that utilises its vast operational experience to assist groups to effectively guide their projects through the planning stages towards eventual implementation of their community renewable energy model. Spreading that knowledge for the good of community and climate is key to the importance of Embark’s work – by contributing to the strength of the sector the non-profit organisation is achieving its goals, and communities receive the assistance they need at little or no cost. Increasingly active across the country, high profile proposals such as the 400kW community solar project in Sydney’s Darling Harbour serve to illuminate the organisation’s essential and hugely influential role in the burgeoning sector, while the countless projects assisted behind the scenes serve as the backbone to their contribution.

With a handful of community solar projects on the cusp of becoming fully-fledged working models, the community power sector is primed to expand significantly in 2013. Eventually adding to this growth, with the help of some progressive political leadership, community wind projects similar to Hepburn Wind stand ready and waiting for a relaxation of the highly restrictive ‘no-go zone’ and ‘2km setback’ laws currently set in place by the conservative Liberal/National Coalition government in Victoria. Along with solar and wind, clean energy generation methods involving biomass, geothermal, small-scale hydro, wave and tidal energy projects (to name a few) represent some of the ways community-based energy projects across Victoria, and the rest of this diverse region, are set to transform traditional, centralised energy markets into clean, clever, distributed and highly empowering systems for environmental and social renewal; community-beneficial economies that can enable people to help solve local, and global problems. As ethical investors, climate activists, clean energy supporters, or strengtheners of our communities, now it’s up to us to get on board with our local projects and see how we can help leave behind an era of barriers and challenges for one of innovative implementation and healthy, resilient communities.

Sources: RenewEconomyThe AgeYCANRanges EnergyHepburn Wind/Mistervint

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